When I'm trying to wrap my head around a brand, I'll often write a manifesto. I give this assignment to my classes a lot as well, and they've always found it pretty useful.
The manifesto is just a paragraph or two that answers a very simple question: What do we stand for? Part of this may be what we're against. But basically, you want some very concrete language that defines the brand in an impassioned way. If you read it out loud, you should feel it. It should be something that deserves background music. Something you want to stand up and salute.
If the brief is the intellectual foundation for a brand, the manifesto is its emotional foundation. Often, you'll be able to pick through your manifesto and find great headline fodder, or thoughts that can lead to other ads. And they're great to read in client meetings before you present the creative, because they fire everyone up and set up the work.
Here are a couple of examples of good manifestos:
MILLER HIGH LIFE
And this one below was written by one of my former students (an art director!) for Ford Mustang.
FORD MUSTANG. A little Detroit exists in all of us, whether we admit it or not. If you’re a tax accountant in San Jose or a 3rd grade teacher in Macon, Georgia, you wish, at least a little, that you were from Detroit. Then you’d have some of the attitude, the swagger, the trigger middle finger and the grizzly-bear-like resistance to winter that we have. The only reason we need hipsters and yuppies is to rob them. This is Detroit. Rock City. Motor City. We helped end the nightmarish disco era and gave you Techno and Motown. This is Hockey Town. Not Golf Town. Not Niketown. Not US Open Town. The only tennis players you’ll find here are the ones dating our hockey players. We have an insatiable desire to live off sliders and donuts and we’re riotous fans of the flagrant foul and the dirty pick-and-roll up high. We wanted to jump Ron Artest in the parking lot, sleep with his sister and then run from the cops. We breed loudmouth white guys with nasty demeanors and questionable music which we bump in our 10s. And deep down you realize you’re one of us too. But your inner 313 is still stuck in the closet, unsatisfied, waiting to shout “don’t fuck with me after 9pm.” You’re stuck in a cul-de-sac or a cubicle with a cup of decaf coffee, and you can’t stomach Schlitz and you order your wings mild. You’ve been resisting, but now it’s time to indulge. Finally say what you’ve been secretly dying to say all these years: Move, bitch. Get out of the way.